Well Le Mans never disappoints does it! Every year I wonder if the storyline can be as good as the previous, whether the race will be a bit more predictable, straightforward even. Neither of those words can be used to describe Le Mans 2017!
For the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing crew it was a bit of a low key start. Braking issues kept us in the box for over two hours during the final practice session, meaning we had to sacrifice some of our qualifying sessions to refine the race set up for the GT. P9 on the grid wasn’t what we hoped or expected, but at the same time it was hardly a disaster for a 24 hour race.
The Driver’s Parade is always a highlight on the Friday in Le Mans town centre. Our convertible Ford Mustang was equipped with 2500 blue #67 Ford GT wristbands. It’s safe to say that Andy, Pipo and myself were slightly “trigger happy” when it came to launching these out to the thousands of fans on the street. By ¾ of the way round we’d run out and I think Pipo made history by being the first driver to launch a pepperoni sausage (given to us by the sponsors at the start) into the crowd at the Le Mans drivers parade. Check the videos out on our social media, it was hilarious.
Onto the race and Andy had a trouble free first double stint, handing over to me in 9th place. The car seemed to come alive the more the track gripped up and I had a great double, fighting with every brand in the category, eventually bringing the car in from 2nd place, nose to tail with the leading Aston Martin.
As day turned to night the #67 was consistently running at the front of the pack with Pipo and Andy maintaining the pressure on the leaders. Things unravelled slightly when a gearbox issue severely started to affect our downshifting capabilities. First Andy then I had to nurse the car round and while it was a good test of our adaptability as drivers, the problem was hurting lap time and the pack were closing in.
A long safety car period around 11pm proved to be the perfect time to sort the issue. The mechanics fuelled the car, changed the brakes, fixed the gearbox and fitted new tyres within 3 minutes, pretty remarkable stuff and a testament to their commitment and “never say die” attitude.
Pipo lead the fight back from 10th, handing over to Andy in 7th before I got us back up to 4th. We had to push like madmen to maintain the pace of the front runners. With extra weight and less power compared to last year the car was very trimmed out. This meant we could still just about hold on to the front running pace but it was difficult to drive and the fact that all three of us stayed mistake free was a huge factor in the end result.
I drove the final two and a half stints and they were some of the hardest laps I’ve ever driven. We couldn’t go through all this to finish P4, missing out on the beautiful view of 100,000 people from the podium. I wasn’t going to let it happen and it was a big relief when the final round of pit stops was complete and we’d jumped the 3rd place Porsche with a 40 second margin.
With 5 laps to go, short shifting, staying off the kerbs and taking no risks in traffic were the order of the day, it was all about bring the car home. Then everything changed! Coming through the Ford Chicanes for the penultimate time, I suddenly got the ardent toned message from my engineer David “Wilks” Wilcock, “PUSH HARRY, MAXIMUM ATTACK. DO NOT LET THE LEADING LMP1 CAR THROUGH”. I didn’t question just actioned. Smashing my way through the kerbs of the final corner to start the final lap Wilks confirmed the call, “THE CORVETTE HAS A PUNCTURE, FINAL LAP, PUSH PUSH PUSH!”
I was on the quali lap of all quali laps. While tension was at breaking point in the Ford garage, in the car everything was quiet and clear. Brake point, apex, exit point. Fully focussed on getting the job done. As I came through the kink to the Porsche Curves I could see the Corvette in the distance and by the exit of the Karting I was through. As I passed him the radio started going crazy. The whole garage was watching my on board and it felt like they were all sat next to me in the passenger seat! We’d done it, P2 at Le Mans!
Congratulations to Aston Martin who had a faultless race with the #97 car. We raced them as hard as we could but they had just a little bit too much acceleration and top speed for us. Their crew did a fantastic job and the final laps were some of the most spectacular in GTE history.
After the build up to the race being surrounded by BOP questions and how much Ford were “sandbagging” (You might have seen I bit pretty hard with one reporter) it has been very refreshing to see everyone praising the race for how competitive it was. It’s certainly going to be a tough, close fight in the second half of the season but Andy and I are in the best position at the top of the World Championship standings.
The #66 was fast but a suspension issue in the night scuppered their chances. Their time will come, they’re too quick for it not too. And the #68 and #69 both had punctures and other issues but played a great supporting role to us, as we did last year after our early issues. Le Mans really does choose you doesn’t it!
Finally, while the WEC crews revert to two driver line ups for the rest of the season, it’s only fitting that I end with a word on Pipo. He drove a brilliant race, keeping us in the hunt when times were good and leading the fight back when it was not. He’s been the perfect team mate to myself and Andy and has been quick without a single mistake all year. Thank you buddy, we couldn’t have done it without you.